Feb 12 2008

No more deprivation in the name of being frugal!


If you’re depriving yourself in the name of being frugal, you are missing the point.

I’m afraid I was getting too caught up in trying to spend $35 on groceries in a week. It seems to be the gold standard among the frugal blogosphere, and I’m afraid I have continued to perpetuate that magic number.

In reality, spending $35 a week on groceries is in fact doable for two adults. Some people are able to spend even less and feed themselves. As long as you’re happy and comfortable in doing that, keep on truckin’, folks.

If you’re going through particularly tough times, or are eating beans n’ rice to help you pay off debts (as sometimes suggested by Dave Ramsey on his radio show), then by all means, stick to spending as little as possible to get you through it.

But, if you have wiggle room in your budget and you are getting tired of el cheapo meals, give yourself a break.

The whole point of cutting back on your grocery costs is so you’ll have more money to use in other areas. It’s to make your dollar stretch as far as it can go, while still feeding your family well. It’s to remove unnecessary expensive convenience foods from your shopping cart.

It’s NOT intended to make you feel deprived, or worse, make you rebel against frugality altogether.

Last week, I was really frustrated with my grocery shopping. I had absolutely no desire to try to spend $35 for the week. I was sick of the meals I had been preparing (simple and tasty, but getting old!) and I wanted a change.

So, I prepared a menu for the week that has more fun foods that I had been craving. Last night, we had steak fajitas. We haven’t had steak in…oh, a really long time. I can’t say that I really like steak, but it was a nice change over the typical ground beef fare.

On Valentine’s Day, I’m going to try to prepare some restaurant-style food. We’re having stuffed mushrooms and Alice Springs chicken a la Outback steakhouse. It might not taste as good as the restaurant version, but I’m going to give it a good effort.

And, at some point this week, I’m going to try to recreate a smoked salmon chowder similar to one that we had on a cruise ship. Ambitious, I know.

Last week at Giant Eagle, I spent $35. Then, I went on to spend about $25 at Aldi. My husband, Shane, spent about $10 at Giant Eagle to get a few odds and ends we also needed. So, we’re looking at oh, $70 for the week.

I’ve had weeks where I’ve spent half of that and felt fine about it, honestly.

But right now, it’s either I eat an interesting meal at home, or I’m going to want to go to a restaurant (which will cost a lot more anyway, and I don’t think it even tastes that great).

I wrote this post with the goal of making a few points.

  • First, I wanted to show some transparancy, and that I don’t always spend a tiny amount on groceries for the week.
  • It can be dangerous to compare ourselves to others. Just because one frugal gal regularly spends $xx.xx on groceries doesn’t mean you can or should. Just view others’ amounts as possibilities, and use them to inspire you, not frustrate you.
  • Don’t deprive yourself or your family. If you aren’t getting fruits or vegetables, you need to make room for them in your budget if at all possible. And, if you’re sick of $2 dinner fare, add a nicer meal once or twice a week to even it out.

I feel a lot better this week about my groceries. I feel like I’ve regained some control over it all, rather than letting an arbitrary dollar amount rule my life.

In the future, I do plan to spend less than $70/week on groceries. Right now, I’m thinking my goal should be somewhere around $35-55 per week, depending on what we need (and yes, an extra special dinner once in awhile is a need). 

But, if I have weeks where I end up spending more, I’m not going to count that as a frugal failure.

Kind of related: See Amy’s post here.

Posted under Uncategorized | 29 Comments »

29 Responses to “No more deprivation in the name of being frugal!”

  1. Thank you so much for posting your honesty. I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, and have to admit that the whole $35 amount scared me. I have a family of five and have spent way too much money shopping at a higher end store just because it is within a mile of my house. I have now learned to coupon and check the ads for the best deals, and started shopping at Aldi. I did an inventory of the pantry and freezer and discovered we could probably live for a month should we ever be snowed in that long! Anyway, I went to Kroger 2 weeks ago Saturday and spent $75, then went to Aldi and spent around $50. I have gone and gotten milk and bread since then, but I was pleased with $125 for 2 weeks. I actually think I could stretch it a little longer, but my meat loving family might be cannibalistic! The $35 did not seem realistic to me at first, but now I see you can do it. My family just has to come down a notch or two and try some different things! I’m glad you were open about your feelings.

  2. I really like this post. We have budgets for clothing, but every now and then I get sick of wearing the same old thing & I go over the budget. If I didn’t I would just feel like I was depriving myself. Plus, I do so good saving money on everything else, we can afford a splurge, and when I splurge it’s usually from the clearance racks anyway :)

  3. Amen sister! Really, sometimes pushing for cutting back on things just leads to overspending. It’s very much like dieting. There’s nothing wrong in indulging every now and then. I wrote about this recently and how I wanted a ipod but was probably going to get a utilitarian gift for my birthday. Well, guess what? I got my ipod and I love it! it makes working out so much more fun and let’s face it I need to work out like a maniac to drop the last of the baby weight.
    So enjoy your steak and salmon soup. I hope it comes out delicious. I am planning on making a yummy dessert and dinner for my husband on Thursday.

  4. I love this post! Even though we have downsized our grocery budget we still spend more than most people each week because we love food and spending time at the table as a family enjoying a good meal is very important to us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  5. Awesome post! I am afraid I am going to burn out on this frugle thing. I have basically become obsessed with being frugle even though I have a lot of disposable income (most I am saving to retirement)and no credit card debt. I should live a little, but have a hard time spending money. I dont think my hubby and I have gone out to dinner a month or more. I just love saving money. I heve never suscribed to the 35 bucks a week and do not have a budget, just guidelines.

  6. I think you’re totally right–what’s the point of having money if you’re miserable from not spending it? This my approach to clothes. Shop deals, online, and eBay, but if if I’ve been eyeing something forever that I know I’ll love and wear the heck out of, I’m going to go for it (if my bank account can take it, of course)!

  7. Good for you Kacie.

    In all things there must be balance. Although you spent more on your budget this week you will find (if your are keeping track…and I know that you are) that on average you do spend $35.00 a week.

    Take into consideration the weeks when you don’t spend $35.00 like when you know that you will be eating with family or friends.

    Also calculate the weeks when you are away from home.

    So overall I admire your determination to keep a budget and also your wisdom to understand that you have demonstrated to yourself that you have the discipline to stick to a beudget to acieve long term success.

  8. I so agree! We have cut our grocery budget for a family of 3 down to $50 a week from $100 a week. I have read quite a bit about doing the $35 a week budget and sometimes feel the pressure to get mine lower. We like to have some fresh produce and quick healthly snack food for our family on the go. I think the key is having a budget. I do get excited about going under budget, but rarley do I have the temptation to go over my budget,because I made it realistic for my families needs.

  9. That definitely resonates with me. Sometimes I feel really really frustrated with our frugal efforts. I’ll get a real craving for fries or tacos, etc.

    But most of the time I’m ok with staying on plan. :)

  10. I too thank you for this post. I also have gotten caught up in the $35 per week and get frustrated when I can’t reach it. I have felt like a failure. Well, I’ve finally realized that my family of 6 can not do $35 per week. My DH does not eat ANY veggies so that means meat and either potatoes or rice at every meal. That adds up, let me tell ya! LOL!

    I do CVS & Walgreens for free personal care products~ I shop sales and use coupons ~ I make sure I keep up with Harris Teeter for tripple coupons~ I use store brands whenever possible ~ I buy meat only when it’s on sale~ I save as much as I can.

    I remember spending $150 for 2 when we were first married. Then it was $100 for 6. Well, now it’s down to $75 or $80 per week and I’m very pleased.

    I also got caught up in the “it’s on sale…it’s a great price…I’ve gotta have it’s just to find out that NO ONE will eat it. It’s not a bargin if it goes in the trash! Now, it’s gotta be something I KNOW we need and will use before I stock up.

    Thanks for your blog. I’m learning how to save and how to balance it with living :-)

  11. I think something that would work better long term is to plan in a different, probably more expensive meal each week. We don’t always eat cheaply. I regularly plan little splurges in our menu. We can’t eat vegetarian every night, but mixed in with meat meals, we do well. Splurging on something we really like but is more expensive than our normal dinner is something I try to do once every week or two. This makes being frugal and eating low cost meals more bearable for the long run. Not that eating low cost meals is unbearable, but you just get tired of simple sometimes, ya know?

    I guess that I am saying that in the future don’t splurge on a whole weeks worth of food, but splurge a little each week and it might work better.

  12. Before I started using coupons in October I struggled to stay under $50 a week in groceries/hshld, and felt deprived. Now that I do coupons and CVS, I have some weeks where I spend 25-35, yet I still manage to feel guilty when I spend $50 another week (for 2 adults).

    Thanks to you and Money Saving Mom, I realized anew that it is not a contest. I think I am going to keep withdrawing $50 a week for groceries/CVS, and make it a game to spend less and set the extra aside. The extra can be used to buy really expensive blueberries when we need a break from “gazelle intense”.

    By the way, even Dave Ramsey says food and shelter comes FIRST…and I am pretty sure, from his responses to callers to his radio show, that he would be shocked we are striving for $35 a week.

  13. I think you’ve hit it right on the head, Jennifer.

    I was eating so many cheapy meals that I finally went berserk!

    I think that’s what we’ll end up doing, having one “fancy night” a week, and the rest of the week more modest (but satisfying) meals.

  14. I’m wondering where this $35 a week on groceries number came from. Currently, we spend about $150 a week for a family of four. Even before I had kids, I never spent that little on groceries. Maybe it’s because we buy a lot of fruits and vegetables. I’d love to know who set the $35 benchmark and where he or she lives–I’m guessing it’s not near one of the East Coast’s big cities, which is where I live.

    Oh, and good for you for not beating yourself up about unreasonable shopping and spending expectations!

  15. Wonderful post! I don’t live by a budget and don’t even grocery shop on a regular basis, as I don’t cook every day anymore — I just go when I need to. But what you spend and how often you stick to any goal totally depends on what you eat/can’t eat, where you live, what your dietary goals and interests are right now, and many more things. It’s important to have those times when you treat yourself or spend a little more — this is life! We must enjoy it, as we can’t take the money with us. :-) I think being frugal can makes those times when you treat yourself more special, too.

    I think if I spent that little on groceries for a whole week’s worth of meals for my home of two, I’d only be eating ramen and cheapo processed foods, because everything is more expensive in Hawaii, as it is in many places where the cost of living is higher than average. I wouldn’t be eating anything healthy, that’s for sure. But if I could spend that little, I certainly would (except when I needed a treat)!

  16. I absolutely hear you! Sometimes, we can get caught up in trying to save money and lose sight of what matters most-our happiness and the happiness of our family.
    If eating beans and rice is driving you and your family crazy, then the money saved is not worth it.
    I try to do my best to be frugal, and save my family money, but I know that I will never make the “magic” numbers of under $50 a week. I may give it all I’ve got, but if I spend less than $100 a week for my family of 6, plus pets, then I feel like I have done something great.

    Everyone has their own comfort level and their own reasons for budgeting the way they do. It is important to allow yourself some wiggle room to adjust for your comfort or frustrations when needed.

    And, I agree, the odd night out is a NEED. Wait until you have a gaggle of munchkins running around…Grandma offers to babysit and you and your Hubby haven’t had a date in forever- you’ll be headed to that steakhouse-pronto. :) LOL

    Great post, and I love the honesty! You do a fantastic job!

    Take Care


  17. You made me sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” Kacie! Great post! I blew about $20 this week to make a lasagna for my Hubby on Valentine’s Day that I know he loves. TWENTY DOLLARS just on lasagna ingredients! Breadsticks and a green veggie are extra. :) He’s so looking forward to it that it is completely worth blowing my budget. Thanks for being so open.

  18. I LOVE this! Thanks so much for posting it. :)

  19. I just spent time in western NY where cauliflower was priced at $3 each. I got home and went shopping today and had to call my mother in law that I bought 3 cauliflowers for 88 cents each back here in CA.

    That magic number for grocery shopping really depends on location. If I lived elsewhere I’d spend a fortune because we have to have our fresh fruits and veggies. To us, they are a necessity.

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

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